Caffeine Withdrawal: A Case Scenario of Plausible Deniability

By: Andrew S
September 5, 2012

Rock Center with Brian Williams: Mormon in America

On August 23rd, NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams aired a one-hour special on Mormonism, Mormon in America. As Mormons tend to do with most non-LDS media presentations of the religion, members and ex-member alike watched the special with bated breath. Would the special present the church fairly? Would the special overstate the case of liberal or disaffected members? What would the official response from the Mormon Newsroom be?

Several of the most well-known online Mormon communities devoted at least some time to covering the special — By Common Consent liveblogged it. Joanna Brooks addressed criticism she received for her comments about women and priesthood ordination that were aired on the special. The Exponent did similarly for Joanna. Kathryn (of Well-Behaved Mormon Woman) commented on the lack of respect given to temple garments. Konden Smith (of Worlds Without End) commented on his experience in the special as an academic.

These are just a few of the posts that were written about the special shortly after its airing. However, if you can believe it, this post here does not aim to join that list — this post is not about the Mormon in America special. Rather, it is about one response in particular, and what that response has revealed about the church.

Getting It Right

About a week after the Rock Center special had aired, the Mormon Newsroom published what would seem to be the official response from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — its latest entry in the Mormonism in the News: Getting It Right series. For the most part, the Newsroom — like many of the other commentators on the special — had mostly positive things to say about the special. From the Newsroom report:

Although NBC doesn’t get everything right in this program (titled “Mormon in America”), it was a sincere attempt to know the faith. Thursday’s show is a good example of what we mean when we say we want to be a part of the global discussion of Mormonism.

The article then went through a point-by-point breakdown of all the places that the program could have better portrayed certain things, all the places that the program didn’t quite “get it right.” One such place was regarding the Word of Wisdom:

Despite what was reported, the Church revelation spelling out health practices (Doctrine and Covenants 89) does not mention the use of caffeine.  The Church’s health guidelines prohibit alcoholic drinks, smoking or chewing of tobacco, and “hot drinks” — taught by Church leaders to refer specifically to tea and coffee. *

These two sentences have brought another slurry of articles, with non-Mormon news sources as far as the Daily Mail and the Huffington Post (well, that was based on Peggy Fletcher Stack’s original reporting in the Salt Lake Tribune) reporting the clarification that the Word of Wisdom does not disallow caffeinated sodas like Coke and Pepsi. What seemed to have been implicitly understood by many (if not most members) has now been solidified and clarified in no uncertain terms — the rationalization for caffeine content as determinative of what is prohibited as a “hot drink” is nothing more than false folk doctrine or culture.

…of course, as the star from the Newsroom’s post footnotes, that statement of the church wasn’t the original statement. Originally, the Mormon Newsroom’s article had stated the following:

Despite what was reported, the Church does not prohibit the use of caffeine. The Church’s health guidelines, known in our scriptures as “the Word of Wisdom” (Doctrine and Covenants 89), prohibits alcoholic drinks, smoking or chewing of tobacco and “hot drinks” — taught by Church leaders to refer specifically to tea and coffee. The restriction does not go beyond this.

Jana Riess…with Jana Riess at Religion News Service being one of the first publicly to note the change in language. And while Jana speculated on the reason for the change, offering one possible narrative for why the Newsroom would have made such a seemingly minor change, in the end, she concludes:

But the small question of caffeine isn’t nearly as interesting to me as the larger questions of doctrine vs. policy and the possible impact of the media on LDS Church statements and clarifications. Although the LDS Newsroom offers the disclaimer that its own statements are not definitive (“The information here is reliable and accurate but should not necessarily be viewed as official statements from the Church”), they are the clearest enumerations of policy that Mormons and journalists have to go on these days, and as such they are significant.

In a rare moment of institutional transparency, today I watched an elucidation of church policy literally change before my eyes, in full view of the Mormon people.

That, not caffeine, is the real news story.

And so it is. And so it is.

Plausible Deniability As Official Church Policy

Caffeine Withdrawal: Plausible Deniability as Church PolicyA lot has been said about the modern church and how it operates — many folks have problems particularly with the corporate structure or with what they perceive to be a discrepancy between the church’s marketing campaigns and the reality of the religion (e.g., Mormon.org) or the ideal of the religion (for a religion that proclaims that prophets speak in modern times, it seems disappointing that the LDS Newsroom is the one who provides clarification about the Word of Wisdom and not, for example, any general authority). I’m not sure if all of the problems can stem to one source, but a popular proxy for many folks’ pain points with the church is correlation.

At least on paper, correlation creates a consistent church language, discourse, and experience. With correlation, everyone should be on the same page. And so, the Mormon Newsro0m’s post seems to serve an exemplar role for teaching how correlation works in the modern church. Whether it is on Randy Bott’s racial comments or on the church’s finances, we should simply recognize and accept the pattern of the Mormon Newsroom being on the forefront of wrangling (and perhaps, promulgating) doctrine from the jungles of culture, folklore, or non-LDS reporting inaccuracy. And why not? As servants of the Lord, Doctrine & Covenants 1:38 should apply to the faithful members that comprise the Newsroom as much as it applies to the First Presidency or the Quorum of the Twelve.

But when analyzing what Riess describes as “a rare moment of institutional transparency,” we do not quite see clarification. We do not quite see everyone getting on the same page. In fact, interestingly enough, we see what seems to be an institutional choice toward more ambiguity, not less. Let’s compare the changes in the old and new church statements:

OLD (emphasis added):

Despite what was reported, the Church does not prohibit the use of caffeine. The Church’s health guidelines, known in our scriptures as “the Word of Wisdom” (Doctrine and Covenants 89), prohibits alcoholic drinks, smoking or chewing of tobacco and “hot drinks” — taught by Church leaders to refer specifically to tea and coffee. The restriction does not go beyond this.

NEW (emphasis added):

Despite what was reported, the Church revelation spelling out health practices (Doctrine and Covenants 89) does not mention the use of caffeine.  The Church’s health guidelines prohibit alcoholic drinks, smoking or chewing of tobacco, and “hot drinks” — taught by Church leaders to refer specifically to tea and coffee. *

The funny thing about all of this is that I caught on to this entire matter after the change had been made. When I was growing up, I was never under the impression that caffeine was prohibited (in fact, we often joked that one of my bishops’ sons was addicted to caffeine via his beverage of choice Mountain Dew), so I may be biased here, but when I read the new text that “the church revelation spelling out health practices does not mention the use of caffeine,” I automatically connected that with a conclusion that caffeine wasn’t disallowed.

So I was quite surprised when I learned that the version that I had was a revised version…and I was confused when I read the original content. The old version, as you can see above, differs from the new version in two relevant ways — it explicitly states that the church does not prohibit the use of caffeine, and then it explicitly states that the prohibitions of the Word of Wisdom do not go beyond alcoholic beverages, smoking or chewing tobacco, and “hot drinks” (which refer specifically to tea and coffee).

The main thing that the change does effectively is that it tones down the language of “not prohibit[ing]” to the more vague (yet also completely accurate) “not mention[ing]“.

I may lack creativity, but when contrasting the two statements, the only reasonable conclusion I can come up with is that the new statement is meant to be just a tad bit more vague about the status of caffeinated beverages than the old statement is. But interestingly enough, I think I can understand precisely why the church might want to do this.

In her article, Jana Riess hypothesizes the reason for the change in language thusly:

You have to wonder what happened to “the Church does not prohibit the use of caffeine” and “The restriction does not go beyond” tea and coffee.

Here is an educated guess. Judging from the social media response to the Rock Center program, NBC’s caffeine statement generated some lively pushback from Mormons who, unlike the family profiled in the program, do drink caffeinated soda. So when the Church issued its clarification yesterday, there was a general whoop of caffeinated Bloggernacle joy.  For example, @nicknewman801 reported the initial Church statement and rejoiced at “the sound of a million cans of soda opening” behind the Zion Curtain.

Although the clear initial statement that the Church “does not prohibit the use of caffeine” certainly seemed to lend support to the Coke Party, the clarification has qualified that considerably. The second statement is far more measured, sticking directly to the facts: the Word of Wisdom does not mention caffeine at all.

Perhaps I don’t understand the reasoning by her educated guess, but it seems to me to be implausible. I don’t think that the change in language was because of pushback from Mormons who do drink caffeinated soda. To the contrary, I think it more plausible that the change focuses around pushback (whether actual or even projected) from the members who do not drink caffeinated soda — and who, in fact, believe that caffeinated sodas have always been prohibited.

To these folks, the earlier statement on the Word of Wisdom would have come as a system shock. Their entire lives and beliefs regarding the Word of Wisdom were invalidated with three lines (old version). And I’m not saying that these members’ faiths would be so fragile as to be destroyed by such a change…but I think it possible that a destabilizing change could definitely cause some folks to second guess whether they have a good understanding of what is doctrine and what isn’t.

And so, for the Newsroom, it is a relatively easy fix…tone down the language to something that can be read flexibly. Now, those who find caffeinated soda OK can look at the new statement and see a statement that validates them. Those who find caffeinated soda not OK can look at the new statement and see a statement that also validates them — for even if Doctrine and Covenants 89 does not mention the use of caffeine, that’s not the same as the Church (a far wider body of doctrine) explicitly not prohibiting it.

The phrasing also gives the church room to pivot. A relatively neutral stance like, “Does not mention…” can be amended with, “But modern revelation does prohibit…” OR “And modern revelation does not say anything further to prohibit.” Or the church can remain relatively silent — so that when one group or another either speaks in favor of caffeinated sodas or against, it can modulate its reaction appropriately. The church, in other words, has plausible deniability as a result of ambiguous policy statements.

Ambiguity as a change strategy

At this length, I don’t have much room to devote the amount of space that should be devoted to the following, but I would say that the Mormon Newsroom’s measured new statement is not an isolated phenomenon. To the contrary, I would say that ambiguity is a characteristic strategy for change within the correlated church. There are a couple of reasons why I think ambiguity is pursued by the church:

1) Ambiguity is necessary to cater to a diverse membership in terms of beliefs, culture, and practices

To the church’s credit, I see some of the ambiguity within the church as being a way for the church to “let [members] govern themselves.” I think there are some problems with this (namely, that most members will “fill in” the ambiguous aspects of their experience with folklore and culture, and then confuse these things for doctrine), but here’s how it works.

Let’s take a different ambiguity: tithing: is it on gross or net? I see ambiguity as a purposeful strategy to let people do whatever they are most comfortable with…if someone is comfortable with paying on gross, then sure, they will pay more, but they aren’t likely to become disaffected over that. On the other hand, if tithing based on gross is a dealbreaker for another…well, that’s not an explicit requirement either. Each side (and all the permutations otherwise) will have their own set of folklore, culture, and “unofficial” doctrine — quotes from this leader or that one — that they will use to back up their interpretation, and in the end, two people who believe entirely different things about the appropriate level of tithing will believe that their way is orthodoxy and any other way is heterodoxy or worse. Never the twain shall meet, though, because their interpretations will be so given that they will take them for granted. When your bishop asks, “Do you pay a full tithe,” rarely does a person ask, “Well, is a full tithe on net or gross?” By the time we’ve entered the interview, we have already gathered — from various sources — our understanding of what a full tithe must be — even if our understanding is different from the person who went to interview before us and the person who will follow us.

Think of everything that you think is relatively “straightforward” about the church. Chances are, if you drill down, there will be some assumptions you’re making (that to you seem obvious) that aren’t concretely and explicitly supported.

2) Ambiguity creates cross-generational change

As Jana Riess stated, the real news story is the rare chance to see a glimpse of the church gears shifting. The fact is, however, that we so often miss these changes. Were it not for Jana Riess and others on the internet who saw the old version, saw the new version, and noticed that there was something different, I for sure would have thought that there had been no change.

I think the church relies upon this. Whenever the church changes manuals, changes the Handbook of Instructions, changes conference talks, or whatever else, there will certainly be some folks who catch the change, but the church probably relies upon most people not catching the change. With relatively minor changes, it’s OK for a new generation to grow up hearing the new material…for the older generations to have internalized the old material…and never the twain shall meet, because neither generation has reason to believe that anything has changed if there is not a public repudiation anywhere in the process.

As an anecdote that shows both concepts, I will reproduce part of a Facebook comment regarding birth control:

I remember when I was newly married my father-in-law shared with me excerpts from Doctrines of Salvation strongly condemning the use of birth control. (My wife came from a large family who believed this strongly.) He reinforced this with statements from President Benson. We tried to put this teaching to practice. Several children later, with our arms full of kids, we more wisely concluded that the teachings had changed. This was in part because hardly anyone my age had even heard about or believed in a prohibition on birth control. I began to feel unfortunate for having heard of it. I also noticed a statement in the Church Handbook saying that this is a personal decision and members should not judge one another in these matters. That statement was not exactly a repudiation of what Joseph Fielding Smith had written, nor was it even publicly available, but it was a call to stop teaching any such prohibition to others. When I shared this statement with my mother-in-law she was bewildered and surprised, because she thought it was settled doctrine to be taught openly. She still thinks it is doctrine, but thinks the church is just trying to be sensitive with this generation of slackers.

So, now what?

As I mentioned earlier, I said that I thought there were some problems with the proposal that ambiguity is a way of punting issues to church members and “letting them govern themselves.” The major issue is that as human beings, we seek to fill in ambiguity with whatever we can find…folklore, culture, unofficial doctrine, what-have-you. A secondary issue is that we are beholden to others around us (such as our bishops and stake presidents) doing the same thing.

Still, I feel that as we become more aware of ambiguity in the church, we can be awakened to new ways of being Mormon…rather than being consigned to certain answers and assuming that they are just so, why not be critical about what faith requires?

The Word of Wisdom still is relatively untapped for expressive meaning. Surely, there’s a lot of culture and folk doctrine around what the Word of Wisdom says and means, to the extent that most people can probably rattle a list of what things are prohibited by the Word of Wisdom…but what the recent Mormon Newsroom article points out is that although nearly every member could create such a list…some of those members were overzealous and incorrect.

So, why not challenge elsewhere we could be overzealous? On the tamest side, what if we took more seriously the words about eating meat sparingly?

But we could be edgier (while keeping in mind Paul’s counsel in 1 Corinthians 8) — what if we looked even at the church’s most recent statement about hot drinks speaking about coffee and tea? So, iced tea? Iced coffee?

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105 Responses to Caffeine Withdrawal: A Case Scenario of Plausible Deniability

  1. Jake on September 5, 2012 at 3:44 AM

    What I am most interested by is the fact that now on the LDS Newsroom it has an Asterix pointing out that the article has changed but does not say what has changed. I wonder if the Asterix was there originally? I suspect that they made the change hoping it would go unnoticed and then added the Asterix once Jana Reis, and others noticed the change. This highlights something that I think is interesting about digital culture, things can change overnight and leave no trace of their change. We see the subtle changes in doctrine and policy of the past through comparing physical texts such as in the instance of birth control given in the OP. Once something is printed it can’t be amended and will always show what it said, only a reprint will allow amendment. However, today seeing as LDS.org is now the prime source for LDS documents it allows the church to make changes such as this silently and imperceptibly. Whilst Jana Reis may claim that she saw policy change overnight in front of her eyes. I suspect this was a change that was not intended to be seen by the Mormon public.

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  2. Howard on September 5, 2012 at 6:52 AM

    Thus the church changes or clarifies God’s eternal truths at glacial intergenerational speed while placating orthodox – heterodox tensions with a hat tip and a wink to the egos and opinions of octogenarian leaders and their generation of believers while ultimately moving toward aligning with younger thinking. If you live long enough it will be your generation’s turn!

    Thank God for a church that was restored by a 14-38 year old and is led via. revelation by a living Jesus Christ who was 30-33 when he walked the earth and taught!

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  3. hawkgrrrl on September 5, 2012 at 7:33 AM

    I loved reading that BYU doesn’t sell caffeinated drinks on campus because there is insufficient demand for them. How would they know? All it would have taken is a quick survey of what drinks were most purchased in surrounding convenience stores to know there was/is a LOT of demand. It’s as ridiculous as the assertion that 100% of women who work for CES who have a baby decide they want to quit working (when in reality CES doesn’t allow them to work if they have children between ages 0 and 18).

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  4. Andrew S on September 5, 2012 at 7:45 AM

    re 1:

    Jake,

    YES, this is what I want to know…because when I had originally read the article, I had the new wording, but I did not recall an asterisk. (On the other hand, because I didn’t think the article had been updated, and I did not understand the importance of any update anyway, I don’t think that I would have kept my eyes peeled for an asterisk anyway).

    I wish there were someone who could verify, but it definitely seems to me like the asterisk was added after they realized that people had seen the change.

    I love your thoughts on change in the digital era and change in the printing era…I guess intrepid historians of the future will have to learn to view cached versions of websites to determine previous iterations…

    re 2

    Howard,

    Yeah, but what I’m saying is that the system is probably a lot more liberal than we think and that they say — liberality and openness may not be built into the public discourse or the image that the church portrays to the public, but it is “built-in” to the policy precisely because of all of the ambiguity.

    If you aren’t at least willing to entertain this constructive subversion, then I dunno, man.

    re 3

    hawkgrrrl,

    The BYU “insufficient demand” thing was a facepalm-worthy moment for me. The “100% of CES women decide they want to quit working” meme depresses me, though.

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  5. Bonnie on September 5, 2012 at 8:09 AM

    Oh. My. Gosh. I know that my life has been thrown into life or death issues of late and that colors my responses to things like this, so I will try to soften this to an eyeroll.

    In a gospel that is focused on this mortal experience as a development of faith, hope, and charity in pursuit of the character of God, we quibble about caffeine? About whether the clarification of a minor principle comes from the official spokesman of the church or the prophet?

    The fact is, the WOW is a beginning point, a line drawn from which to measure. It’s a matter of personal sacrifice, to allow saints to consecrate the things they put into their bodies out of an understanding that their bodies are a gift, just as tithing is a baby step toward further consecration. God is not going to command in all things – he simply lays out purposes and lets us govern ourselves.

    The WOW taught people who did not live in a hyper-healthy culture that the quality of their food mattered and that certain types of food were to be avoided because they were bad for them. Caffeine is one of a group of addictive substances that alters brain chemistry in agency-subverting ways, like alcohol, nicotine, inhalants, meth, opioids, cannabis, PCP and others. Few of those are listed in the WOW because, duh, we can use the principles of the WOW to make up our own minds.

    If you want to run your adrenals into the ground, severely compromising your immune system, engaging the backup organs of your andrenal response in a fight that isn’t theirs until your heart is affected, you can do that. Nobody is going to come check your fridge and pull your temple recommend. I have never gotten the energy invested in this fight on either side. People who subvert their agency to addiction to caffeine are really quite similar to people who subvert their agency to addiction to sugar. Neither are explicitly spelled out. But we do have brains.

    And why should the prophet, whose job is to warn the world and to preach the gospel, to administer the saving ordinances of the gospel, speak out about caffeine? That’s why the church has a spokesman who isn’t the prophet. This isn’t earth-shattering doctrine. It’s minutiae. If we pay attention to what he says in Gen. Conf. we get an idea of the things God really cares about.

    Really. There are monsters out there. Caffeine isn’t one.

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  6. [...] it, since I was able to write what I hope will be considered a magnum opus at Wheat & Tares: Caffeine Withdrawal – A Case Scenario of Plausible Deniability. (Of course, I know that having such lofty expectations will inevitably jinx the article to be a [...]

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  7. Stephen M (Ethesis) on September 5, 2012 at 8:34 AM

    I would note that it is loss of flexibility that led to reluctance to make the handbook available.

    The gospel is a collection of sets. Some are category sets (eg boundary markers) and some are push sets (rules that push institutions one way or the other), some are function sets and some are core sets.

    Of the core sets, some are long term core, others more immediate. Eg Anything that can be done for you in a temple may be core, but is not immediate.

    Anything but core immediate is subject to change from time to time.

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  8. Eric on September 5, 2012 at 8:40 AM

    There’s another change in the statement that hasn’t been mentioned: The original incorrectly implied that Doctrine and Covenants 89 prohibits the use of alcoholic drinks. It does not; it counsels against the use of wine (except for the Sacrament) and “strong drink” while accepting the use of barley-based “mild drinks,” which presumably include beer. The new statement correctly attributes the alcohol ban to the church’s health guidelines, not specifically to Doctrine and Covenants 89.

    So I’m wondering if, at least in part, the revised wording came about from a desire to be accurate rather than to add ambiguity.

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  9. Howard on September 5, 2012 at 8:41 AM

    Andrew,
    The system faces a similar problem that an inclusive Wheat & Tares faces; it’s a teeter totter, if you lean too far orthodox the liberals drop out if you lean too far heterodox the orthodox drop out so obviously you search for the sweet spot and ambiguity broadens that sweet spot. But unlike W&T the church claims to be led day to day by Christ himself (while it behaves as if it isn’t). Christ has no better solution for this teeter totter problem? If significant revelation were announced with greater frequency by strong Christlike Prophets wouldn’t believing members both ortho and hetero be electrified and brought together behind it? The church has leaned so pharisaical orthodox and false advertizes that it faces a significant retention problem and now that it is under the world’s spot light with Romney running for President, I’m not surprised to see liberal allowances creeping in. The teeter totter problem would be easily and greatly reduced by restoring significant revelation and leading members toward God and spirituality instead of marching in place by focusing on Mosaic behavior, activity and rules. But the so much of the power of God has been lost since Joseph’s death that they aren’t doing it and may not be capable of it.

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  10. Bonnie on September 5, 2012 at 8:41 AM

    Exactly, Eric.

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  11. Andrew S on September 5, 2012 at 8:57 AM

    re 5,

    Bonnie,

    I blog about frivolous stuff because as a boychild, I am too afraid of blogging about things of actual importance. I apologize for my immaturity.

    But working off your statement. I am fine with the idea of the Word of Wisdom being a starting base. I am amenable to your idea of a more principles-based or intent-based WoW. E.g., I like the idea of

    The WOW taught people who did not live in a hyper-healthy culture that the quality of their food mattered and that certain types of food were to be avoided because they were bad for them.

    But perhaps why my topic seems so superfluous to you is because I am not focusing on the underlying principle…instead, I am focusing on how this has warped over time into something far more grotesque.

    What I am going to point out simply is that within the church, too many members are raised to believe in the rules without the principles. In fact, the rules, rather than supporting the principles, often goes against the principles. You say the WOW taught people who did not live in a hyper-healthy culture that the quality of their food mattered and that certain types of food were to be avoided because they were bad for them…well and good. But two things…1) The WoW is culturally situated to its own culture’s health fads and 2) has changed and adjusted based on cultural health fads. It now is sticky to change to scientific evidence about health. I mean; you talk about caffeine and sugar both leading to agency problems if you get addicted to either — but because of the rules-based system we have, no one talks seriously about sugar in a Mormon context. And that’s the thing that is striking about so many ex-/post/former/disaffected Mormon conversations. Their tastes as new ex-Mormons are woefully inadequate. Woefully immature. Woefully childlike — they have sweet down, because Mormonism says *nothing* in an official rule-capacity about sweetness. But bitter? Nope.

    You speak about addiction. Yeah, addition is bad. But you (and I would say many Mormons) ignore moderation, and you ignore the fact that most benefits of a lot of life choices come in moderation and not abstinence. Mormons culturally simply don’t “get” moderation — and I would say that’s because of the way the church socializes us.

    …but I digress…that’s not even my focus today.

    My focus today is that I think that through ambiguity, the church is quietly paving the way for exactly the kinds of thoughts you say — for people to be more critical about the rules as they have solidified in whatever way (doctrine, folklore, culture, whatever) and potentially start seeing things in a more principles-based manner.

    re 7

    Stephen,

    Great comment. I would tend to agree that loss of flexibility is something the church really likes to avoid…I guess if I had to think about the challenge with the church in the upcoming years, with the internet and whatnot, it’s not so much about information for information’s sake…but rather about who will maintain flexibility.

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  12. Howard on September 5, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    Bonnie,
    The WoW as a matter of personal sacrifice is a modern rationalization, D&C 89 certainly wasn’t offered that way from God!

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  13. salth2o on September 5, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    I have used massive self control in not posting the words ‘Suck it’ with a link to the caffeine statement on a number of individual’s facebook pages.

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  14. Mike S on September 5, 2012 at 9:06 AM

    #5 Bonnie: This isn’t earth-shattering doctrine. It’s minutiae…

    I agree with you 99% of the time, but in this particular point, I disagree. There are 2 important things that this particular issue raises, both of which are far more than “minutiae”.

    1) Word of Wisdom enforcement: If the Word of Wisdom were merely a health code of suggested guidelines for healthy living, I would agree with you. However, in today’s Church, not following the current interpretation will KEEP YOU OUT OF THE TEMPLE. And this has ETERNAL significance – not minutiae.

    Current interpretation is the key. Christ drank wine. Joseph Smith drank wine and beer. Beer was ok according to the original interpretation of the Word of Wisdom. Today, drinking the same wine or beer that Joseph Smith drank will keep you our of the temple. So, knowing what the current interpretation of the Word of Wisdom is is VITAL if you want to be a “good” Mormon.

    2) Current Interpretation: So, how do we know what the Word of Wisdom “means”? Is it up to us personally? Is it up to the current prophet? Is it up to a faceless “newsroom”?

    When President Hinckley was interviewed by Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, he said that we didn’t drink caffeinated sodas. Black and white. No room for interpretation.

    In talking with Larry King, President Hinckley said the following:
    LK: By saying no?
    GH: By saying, by proscribing those things.
    LK: No to caffeine?
    GH: No to caffeine, coffee and tea.

    Note that he again very specifically prohibited caffeine.

    So, perhaps the biggest issue we have is WHERE our guidelines come from as members of the Church. Do we “follow the prophet” as we sing in Primary and avoid caffeine entirely as President Hinckley taught? Is caffeine fine as long as it’s not coffee or tea as suggested by the LDS Newsroom? How about de-caffeinated coffee that some members drink? Does it really matter? Is it really up to each of us? Could I then drink “beer”, which is a mild barley drink? Or does someone else’s interpretation matter to me?

    So, if it was a suggested health code – no problem with the current system of doctrine by press release, but it’s not. Someone’s interpretation of the Word of Wisdom will keep you from seeing your child’s wedding. Someone’s interpretation of the Word of Wisdom will allow you certain callings. Someone’s interpretation of the Word of Wisdom will allow you certain eternal ordinances.

    And when a prophet’s interpretation and the newsroom’s interpretation differ – who “wins”? Or do we ignore both and do whatever we want?

    Far bigger than minutiae.

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  15. Jake on September 5, 2012 at 9:07 AM

    Bonnie,

    The fact is that the arguments about coca cola between people isn’t really about cola. Its about bigger questions of authority, interpretation and obedience. Cola becomes the crucible in which bigger questions of faithfulness are debated. At least, that is how it is amongst many of my friendship groups it is endowed with being a greater indicator of faithfulness. In the same way that Elder Bednar used, I suspect he regrets the choice of examples now,the story of the boy and girl with a second set of ear piercings as a demonstration of bigger questions concerning following the prophet.

    Of course, in both instances it is absurd to use someones predilection for cola, or piercings to make statements about their righteousness or their inability to think for themselves. Yet, that is what we do. Those who drink coke, see those who don’t as fanatics who get caught up in insignificant details, whilst those who don’t look down on those who drink as many I know call it ‘devils juice.’ (yes drinking cola was just as bad as drinking alcohol.)

    Similarly, this post is not so much about cola, and the subtle changes, as it is about bigger questions of interpretation of how to live the gospel, and how ambiguity can be a means to allow plurality.

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  16. Bonnie on September 5, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    I do not think you are immature, Andrew. As I have said many times, I like both you and your brain very much. I prefaced my response with a clarification that I’m living in life or deathville lately. I don’t really believe that everyone should only ever discuss life or death topics in order to be taken seriously. I’m sorry.

    But grotesque? I know your issue is culture. I know that you are working from a premise that Mormonism is primarily cultural, and that because of that you (or the larger secular culture) are empowered to influence Mormon culture (and therefore doctrine) to fit your views or politically correct views, or whatever. I doubt that’s going to happen, church statement on caffeine or not. Mormonism has always been about peculiarity. It seems to be a refining feature of faith.

    FWIW, I agree that the statement, and especially the revised statement, focuses on principles. I think the church is revitalized by a continual return to principles. But while I agree that moderation is an eternal truth, there are some times when God has said that we are not to push a line. My personal opinion is that some things are not good for us even in moderation, hence a ten commandments. I challenge you to find a spouse who thinks that adultery is good for their marriage in moderation.

    The important principle is protection through obedience. That will never fly in a secular world, and God knows it. Choose you this day. Wheat or tare. Peculiarity.

    And I think it’s very funny that an accountant thinks that addition is bad.

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  17. Andrew S on September 5, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    re 8

    Eric,

    Astute observation…I didn’t want to go so controversial yet, but I think you have unwittingly shown my point.

    See, I was about to say that in critically evaluating our cultural ideas about what is prohibited and what is not, a relatively low-hanging (but understandably controversial fruit) *would be* mild drinks like beer — in other words, stop thinking that beer is banned.

    Am I saying that was the intention of the Newsroom’s statement, to point out that prohibitions against mild barley drinks are not true? No.

    But it perfectly fits in with the ambiguity that allows for interpretation either way. To insist that beer is prohibited requires one to rely upon sources outside the WoW — whether these sources are extradoctrinal or doctrinal is really up to the individual, and his bishop or SP.

    Let’s take the course of action you have taken. You have bifurcated the Word of Wisdom (as lined in Doctrine and Covenant 89) from the church’s “health guidelines.” So to you, these are two separate things which may or may not coincide.

    But to me, I view things as being that the Word of Wisdom (as outlined in D&C 89) *is* the church’s health guidelines. From the old:

    Despite what was reported, the Church does not prohibit the use of caffeine. The Church’s health guidelines, known in our scriptures as “the Word of Wisdom” (Doctrine and Covenants 89), prohibits alcoholic drinks, smoking or chewing of tobacco and “hot drinks” — taught by Church leaders to refer specifically to tea and coffee. The restriction does not go beyond this.

    and the new:

    Despite what was reported, the Church revelation spelling out health practices (Doctrine and Covenants 89) does not mention the use of caffeine. The Church’s health guidelines prohibit alcoholic drinks, smoking or chewing of tobacco, and “hot drinks” — taught by Church leaders to refer specifically to tea and coffee. *

    Emphasis added…what this shows is that the change in phrasing offered *another* dimension of ambiguity and plausible deniability.

    I don’t think that ambiguity and accuracy are at odds with one another. It is accurate to say that the WoW doesn’t mention caffeine. But the WoW is also notoriously ambiguous.

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  18. Bonnie on September 5, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    #12 – Howard, yes it was. “A Word of Wisdom, for the benefit of the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints in Zion – To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days – Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.” Going on to talk about the evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days … um, pretty much “I love you and here’s a warning.”

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  19. Bonnie on September 5, 2012 at 9:26 AM

    Mike, your adherence to the WOW is a matter between you and God. If you go into that interview and you believe you are adhering to the principles of the WOW, then you say that you are and it’s done. My husband was a drunk and justified that he was self-medicating with alcohol and nobody not one person called him on that. He had a recommend though he was putting away a cube a day (that’s 24 cans for those of you who don’t know the lingo.) I used to have a bit of trouble with that, until I realized that the ultimate judgment is with God. Sitting across from the bishop isjust practice. My husband lost the desire to go to the temple anyway, and took himself out of the line of blessings. We choose. The WOW is a personal test, not an organizational test.

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  20. hawkgrrrl on September 5, 2012 at 9:26 AM

    I agree with you Andrew that this change you identified is intended to protect those over-compliers from the harsh realities of their over-compliance. That’s a huge shame, IMO, because it creates an environment in which the ignorant get 2 votes and the informed only get one. (Yes, I am being superior to people who believe cokes are verboten).

    And why would the church do that? Two reasons I can think of: 1) they are more likely to have high compliance overall meaning they are high contributors to the organization, and 2) as you state, their entire structure could crumble if that little tiny crack of a question surfaces on the dike of their belief. So then you lose your most loyal high performers. If I were cynical I’d add a 3rd one – they are the most likely to forfeit their own thinking and kowtow to authority. Good thing I’m not a cynic. But it’s a mistake, IMO, to cater to those that build hedges about the law.

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  21. Howard on September 5, 2012 at 9:33 AM

    Bonnie,
    Please explain your response. Where in #18 do I find something meaning the WoW is given by God as “personal sacrifice” or close to it?

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  22. Howard on September 5, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    So by extension beer is okay? Cool!

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  23. Bonnie on September 5, 2012 at 9:46 AM

    Howard, obedience is always about personal sacrifice. It’s sacrificing the natural man to trust God. That’s why we bring things to the altar. Obedience and sacrifice are the first covenants we make.

    Okay is in the mind of the beholder. I wouldn’t deny you a temple recommend for an occasional beer, and I don’t know anyone who would. But with that self-justification comes a greater risk — we simply ignore God. If you were going over a waterfall, would you really want to have blunted your sense of trust in a being who can see all options and eventualities?

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  24. Howard on September 5, 2012 at 9:55 AM

    Bonnie,
    D&C 89 was given as “greeting; not by commandment or constraint…a principle with promise”. I don’t see obedience as a principal in this, participation was clearly optional. Where do you find obedience and personal sacrifice in D&C 89? Are you sure you’re not applying faith promoting rumor and/or folklore here?

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  25. Silhan on September 5, 2012 at 10:05 AM

    I can’t imagine any Church-approved Bishop giving a temple recommend to a member who is known to drink beer.

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  26. Bonnie on September 5, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    Howard, your question about applying faith-promoting rumor or folklore is a good one, and especially appropriate to this discussion. The history of the WOW is long, I think because God is kind in how he formalizes encouragement into commandment, but that’s just my interpretation.

    Temple attendance has always been by recommendation, initially by interview with the bishop and the prophet (altered when it became prohibitive for the prophet), and home teachers were early involved in a series of questions about worthiness. At one time they included, “have you killed anyone in cold blood?” The content of the questions, in my view, is less crucial than the understanding that we differentiate ourselves from the way those around us live in order to qualify for the opportunity to make further covenants.

    It was nearly a century before adherence to the WOW was a full-fledged temple recommend interview question. The questions have changed over time. The need to be obedient to the counsels we are offered (a no-brainer if we’re interested in personal safety, but whatever) and sacrificing the world to do so have been consistent. After all, one of the early questions was about whether you and your family bathed as regularly as you were able. Differentiation. Peculiarity. Sacrifice.

    I also believe that the dangers have grown more intense that necessitate the people’s ability to make sacrifices of the world. I suppose my views on this are also colored by the post I’m writing for this week, so the strength of my convictions probably don’t make sense in this context.

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  27. Bonnie on September 5, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    Well, Silhan, I could introduce you to a couple of them.

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  28. Becca on September 5, 2012 at 10:16 AM

    What ever happened to teaching correct principles and governing themselves?

    And the word “moderation” is found absolutely no where in the scriptures (especially not in D&C 89). “Moderation in all good things” was a catch phrase first spoken, it looks like, by Pres. Benson. And it seems like we have ignored the “good” part and changed his catch phrase to say “all things”. There are only a few other prophets/apostles who have used the phrase.

    This “teeter totter problem” you mention that you seem to want (or think) the Church should “fix” by simply spelling out what we are to do is exactly what the Church should not do.

    The point of Christ’s gospel is to come unto Him – individually, and through the Holy Ghost. There is a reason we are given the gift of the Holy Ghost at baptism, and it is a significant reason – because we are to be agents unto ourselves, running our own lives.

    “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.” (D&C 58:26)

    It seems like there are many who are uncomfortable with the gospel doctrine of acting, rather than being acted upon.

    Further, the health guidelines of the Church, like many Church policies which are just that (policies, rather than doctrine) are usually based on doctrine. The doctrine behind the Word of Wisdom has nothing to do with coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco, but rather everything to do with the sanctity of the body (the body is a temple, etc), and with the principle of agency and personal revelation.

    The change in the statement (which, interestingly, you still speak of as an “official” statement, when the blog itself contains a disclaimer stating otherwise…) makes the statement actually more in line with doctrine. Stating that the Word of Wisdom does not prohibit the use of caffeine is a false statement. For some, through personal revelation, they may feel as though the use of caffeine is prohibited by the WoW. The more accurate statement is that it isn’t mentioned, and therefore, as Bonnie stated – we have brains (and I would add, the Holy Ghost) and we are instructed to use both tools to figure things out on our own. In fact, if we don’t, God calls us “slothful” and tells us we “have no reward”.

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  29. Howard on September 5, 2012 at 10:17 AM

    So now I’m confused. Beer is okay if you have the right Bishop?

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  30. Bonnie on September 5, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    Gah. Howard. We can twist any guideline we want to make anything okay if all we care about is a guideline. The principle that underlies is the crucial issue. Is one choosing to have a beer because one is building a temple body that is a fit conduit for revelation?? It’s not about what we can get away with. It’s about what we can become as we sacrifice and obey. Gah. Gah. Gah.

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  31. Howard on September 5, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    The point of Christ’s gospel is to come unto Him – individually, and through the Holy Ghost. I totally agree Becca, I’m simply pointing out the pharisaical part of the church has lost sight of this focusing members on rules and activities rather than the spiritual path of being still and knowing He is God.

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  32. Silhan on September 5, 2012 at 10:31 AM

    If the First Presidency and the Twelve are OK with beer-drinking members getting temple recommends then I guess I don’t understand the Church very well (despite having been a member my whole life).

    Don’t get me wrong, I would love for the Church to become more principles-based and less rules-based, but that just doesn’t fit my experience in the Church.

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  33. Adam G. on September 5, 2012 at 10:36 AM

    I’m afraid I don’t see the gotcha or deep insight into the Church’s insidious tactics or anything of the kind.

    What I see is this:

    We have a revelation against tea and coffee. We would like to think there’s a reason for this revelation. One plausible explanation is that tea and coffee are particularly high in caffeine. One could then extrapolate that caffeine itself should be avoided in more than de minimis amounts. But while this extrapolation is reasonable, it isn’t self-evidently the only possible reason for the revelation. So the Church, wisely, does not forbid caffeine but leaves room for members to avoid it if they wish.

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  34. Howard on September 5, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    Bonnie,
    Please, abuse almost any stimulant or depressant or illegal drug or prescription drug and you’ll have a lot of problems. But regular healthy beer drinking in moderation isn’t a problem, it didn’t interfere with my receiving many profound personal revelations during the time I was excommunicated and alcohol didn’t seem to cut Joseph off from God either. So don’t believe everything you hear from the well meaning but overly cautious non-drinking brethren, there’s a lot they don’t know.

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  35. Andrew S. on September 5, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    Everyone,

    welp…so the morning isn’t even over and I’m already running behind on responding to comments…

    re 9,

    Howard,

    This is an interesting comparison…but I think W&T takes a bit different position…rather than ambiguity, we invite everyone to share their side — even if it ends up pissing everyone off in turns.

    On the contrary, I think that ambiguity is a really GOOD way to avoid “teeter totter.” Essentially, the church can officially say that any such teeter totter is cultural, not doctrinal…all it needs to do is properly discipline the newsroom and the general authorities not to go too far one way or another (and for the most part, they all are pretty good at this.)

    Most of the teeter totter these days comes from local interpretations.

    The teeter totter problem would be easily and greatly reduced by restoring significant revelation and leading members toward God and spirituality instead of marching in place by focusing on Mosaic behavior, activity and rules.

    But that’s precisely the benefit of ambiguity…ambiguity allows the church to move toward “God and spirituality instead of marching in place by focusing on Mosaic behavior, activity and rules.” The difference is you don’t think the church is doing it fast enough or dramatically enough, whereas it seems to me that the church is being very cautious — and for good reason. Rocking the boat *is* teeter totter.

    re 12,

    Well, actually, I would say things are FAR more complicated. The Word of Wisdom as originally given wasn’t even in any sense a “commandment.” So, personal sacrifice is truer to the original reading than our modern understanding is.

    re 13,

    salth2o,

    I’m…proud…of you?

    re 14,

    Mike,

    While I do agree with you on many of your points, I would like to reiterate how ambiguity in the system allows for more possibility.

    When you go for a temple recommend interview, they ask if you keep the Word of Wisdom. They do NOT ask, “Do you drink beer or wine.”

    So, if you find beer appropriate with the Word of Wisdom, and accordingly answer “yes” to their question, you get a Word of Wisdom.

    You say:

    So, knowing what the current interpretation of the Word of Wisdom is is VITAL if you want to be a “good” Mormon.

    but that’s not quite true.

    Rather, the only reason you’ll need to know what the current interpretation of the WoW is so that you don’t offend others in their superstitions. But that’s less a matter of the D&C 89 than it is a matter of 1 Corinthians 8. To spell it out:

    …But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. 8 But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

    9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

    As per your point 2…I would say that it is ABUNDANTLY clear that every word that ever comes out of a Prophet’s mouth is not doctrine. (Same with any general authority or the Newsroom.) Prophets and general authorities and the Newroom are just as capable of falling prey to culture and folklore as anyone else — make it more about about the non-systemic nature of Mormon theology than anything else.

    So you take Hinckly’s comments as leaving no room for interpretation. Plenty of other people either use other general authorities or prophets (David O McKay drinking coke…) And each side will take their deck of pullquotes and view them as totally authoritative, totally doctrinal.

    And when a prophet’s interpretation and the newsroom’s interpretation differ – who “wins”? Or do we ignore both and do whatever we want?

    Make the religion your own. Be smart about it.

    re 15,

    Jake,

    Wanted to added a verbal like to your comment…

    re 16,

    Bonnie,

    When I play around with Mormon culture, please don’t view this as at odds with your goals of living Mormon religion. I think we support one another, even if you don’t see it.

    You say:

    I know that you are working from a premise that Mormonism is primarily cultural, and that because of that you (or the larger secular culture) are empowered to influence Mormon culture (and therefore doctrine) to fit your views or politically correct views, or whatever. I doubt that’s going to happen, church statement on caffeine or not. Mormonism has always been about peculiarity. It seems to be a refining feature of faith.

    I don’t see that as what I’m doing at all. Honestly, I don’t care about politically correct views (I’d much rather care about morally correct views, but we probably differ on what “moral” means, but OK. Just don’t say you’d kick out your minor child for x sin, or else I will flip my lid and derail another post, k?)

    ANYWAY, what I do care about — and what you should care about as well — is separating culture from doctrine, so that we can see doctrine more clearly. And so I get that you think it’s kinda silly to focus on minutiae…OK, cool, I agree. But I just want to take the time that before we can view this as silly, before we can view this as minutiae…we must internalize why it’s silly and why it’s minutiae. It’s silly; it’s minutiae because it’s culture…but even more, it’s a cultural artifact that grossly distorts underlying doctrine and practice.

    I am fine with you saying that “there are some times when God has said that we are not to push a line,” or that there are some things that cannot even be handled in moderation…I suspect we would disagree on what those things are, but agree on some others, but whatevs.

    The point is we have to be crystal clear about the reasons. We should be crystal clear not to push a line on doctrine, for example…but just as crystal clear to push ALL lines that are simply culture, for another example.

    Because you have people who up to this point (and probably even after the clarification) who are certain that caffeinated soda is a line not to be pushed. And I mean, you have made your thoughts on caffeine clear too, so maybe you feel similarly. But you are doing it for a much different reasoning and logic than others are doing it for. You should at least be concerned that people do it for principles-based reasons, rather than for slavish devotion to cultural ideas they grew up with, no?

    I challenge you to find a spouse who thinks that adultery is good for their marriage in moderation.

    Not to be a killjoy, but polyamory is definitely a thing. Although maybe you simply define “adultery” in a way that polyamory or other consensual non-monogamous arrangements are mutually exclusive?

    The important principle is protection through obedience. That will never fly in a secular world, and God knows it. Choose you this day. Wheat or tare. Peculiarity.

    As far as I was aware, the “wheat” and “tare” meme doesn’t work quite in that way. Similarly, these dichotomies collapse real-world complexity. Peculiarity isn’t a thing that “Mormons” have and “secular folks” don’t. This is a part of the problematic “all-or-nothing” “abstinence-or-addiction” mentality that I think is cultural for a lot of Mormons…

    And I think it’s very funny that an accountant thinks that addition is bad.

    *your message* O<-< (me and my head)

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  36. Ishmeal on September 5, 2012 at 10:39 AM

    The most entertaining thing about this whole issue, to me, is that it came about because of the church’s own obsession with how it is portrayed in the media. It can’t let a single report go by without publishing a list of corrections, however minor.

    This time, in their zeal to offer up corrections to an NBC report that was already substantially correct and mostly positive on the whole, they have inadvertently demonstrated that the church’s doctrine is so muddled that its own PR department can’t seem to “get it right” on the first go.

    If the church itself is having so much trouble “getting it right,” how can they expect independent journalists to fare any better?

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  37. Bonnie on September 5, 2012 at 10:52 AM

    I do care about separating culture from doctrine, Andrew. Very much. That’s why when Pres. Uchtdorf says, “Stop it” regarding fighting over stupid things with family members, I assume that he means all stupid things, even our cultural understandings of “what good Mormons do.” I hope that my life is a life of integrity, that I live according to what I know and stretch what I know to include ever more moral things for me to embrace and understand. It’s also why I defend the church from what I think is stupid little stuff. It is just as destructive to pick at the prophets as it is to pick at a family member. You bet your calculator I would never kick out a child for an infraction. And I don’t think we kick our prophets to the curb when they differ in their opinions on coke.

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  38. Bonnie on September 5, 2012 at 10:54 AM

    Um, Howard, I’m going to take the prophet’s opinion over yours about the usefulness of stimulants or depressants to aid in my pursuit of revelation.

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  39. Jake on September 5, 2012 at 10:55 AM

    Becca,

    I don’t think that we do come to Christ individually. I would like to think that we do but we are repeatedly instructed on the ‘correct’ way in which we can come to Christ. The way to christ is mediated through other people’s interpretations of the gospel and Christ’s teachings about how we should do it indeed their is a communal part of the church that means salvation is in its nature connected to everyone around us. The church is not comfortable with allowing people room for a different interpretations outside of the consensus within the church. So the individual is not finding their own way, but they are simply learning to conform to the set way.

    There is also an ambiguity between policy and doctrine. What is doctrine today, may in the future be reclassified as policy. There is not a clear cut split between the two. In the same way the ‘official’ stance is ambiguous as you note. It is the PR department issuing a statement, but if it was an Apostle or GA we would still be as unsure about how ‘official’ it is as they could still say at a later date that it was ‘them speaking as men and not as prophets.’ Its a way of limiting future damage.

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  40. Jake on September 5, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    Ishmael,

    If the PR department struggle to get it right, then what hope do average members like us have of getting it right? Good job we have them to clarify things for us. Oh wait. I am actually more confused about it all now.

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  41. Howard on September 5, 2012 at 11:31 AM

    Andrew,
    Yes, ambiguity is a way to avoid unbalancing the “teeter totter” I think of it as a balance extender but it only works to a point, within a limited range. And I see it used at W&T as well, usually to smooth things over.

    Yes we apparently see the speed of change differently but I do recognize accelerating change in the church as the internet and the election shine disinfecting sunlight into the shadows and the dark archives. But it’s not just the speed of change; one can momentarily feel the Spirit from time to time while focusing on their dos and don’ts list or live by walking in the Spirit and talking with God!

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  42. Howard on September 5, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    Bonnie,
    The prophet doesn’t teach how to receive revelation. And that’s the problem! Revelation is not the reward for a perfect or near perfect score on your LDS Santa Clause naughty or nice list!

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  43. Andrew S. on September 5, 2012 at 11:43 AM

    re 18, 19,

    Bonnie,,

    You pre-empted many of my comments here…but isn’t it funny how we’re coming to the same conclusion but from VERY different PoVs?

    re 20,

    Hawkgrrrl,

    Great comment, and great hypothetical cynicism ;)

    I would say the lovely thing about ambiguity is that it doesn’t “cater to those that build hedges about the law.” Or rather, it’s totally and plausibly deniable that it does.

    re 26,

    Bonnie,

    I also believe that the dangers have grown more intense that necessitate the people’s ability to make sacrifices of the world. I suppose my views on this are also colored by the post I’m writing for this week, so the strength of my convictions probably don’t make sense in this context.

    Oh foreshadowing! I do love foreshadowing!

    re 28,

    Becca,

    First, really good point to point out the non-officiality (at least for the *Church*) of the Newsroom…even I fall into the same problem of which I speak (cultural and folkloric conflations)…interestingly, this increases the potential for plausible deniability…

    Stating that the Word of Wisdom does not prohibit the use of caffeine is a false statement. For some, through personal revelation, they may feel as though the use of caffeine is prohibited by the WoW. The more accurate statement is that it isn’t mentioned, and therefore, as Bonnie stated – we have brains (and I would add, the Holy Ghost) and we are instructed to use both tools to figure things out on our own. In fact, if we don’t, God calls us “slothful” and tells us we “have no reward”.

    I would reiterate that ambiguity and accuracy are not opposed to each other…so I would agree that the corrected statement is more accurate, even if more ambiguous. You provide a faithful narrative to provide reason for ambiguity — ambiguity allows for “personal revelation” to provide a diversity of different opinions — for some, that will be that the use of caffeine is prohibited by the WoW. I have some quibbles on this (exactly how “personal” is personal revelation given everyone grows up and is socialized in particular contexts?)…but that is a different discussion.

    re 32,

    Silhan,

    I would point out simply that your experience with the church is indubitably a local, culturally-infused experience. Not saying there’s anything bad about that or that you’ve done anything wrong…just that that’s how things work.

    You know when people say things like, “When you get to heaven, you’ll be pleasantly surprised who has made it there”? I think similar things could be said about General Authorities: “When you speak with GAs, you’ll be pleasantly surprised what things they say outside of correlated contexts,” and so on.

    re 33,

    Adam G,

    There’s no gotcha or insight into insidious tactics because I haven’t written about any “gotchas” or “insidious tactics.” I think that this is really smart…perhaps divinely inspired even. Extremely complex.

    But while this extrapolation is reasonable, it isn’t self-evidently the only possible reason for the revelation. So the Church, wisely, does not forbid caffeine but leaves room for members to avoid it if they wish.

    I would agree, but with one modification. It’s not that the Church, wisely, does not forbid caffeine. That’s an OLD statement mentality. It’s that the Church, wisely, does not mention caffeine…and it’s not that the church simply leaves room for members to avoid it if they wish…it’s that they leave room for members to believe that the church prohibits it, if they wish.

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  44. Andrew S. on September 5, 2012 at 11:58 AM

    re 36,

    Ishmeal,

    Trying to tell a story straight (especially when there’s a history of plenty of other people either overtly hijacking a story or just getting it wrong out of ignorance is not anything to even sneeze at…the fact that the story is complex (even for insiders) does not mean that it is not worthwhile to try to tell it, no matter how much refinement it takes.

    re 37,

    Bonnie,

    And indeed, I don’t kick the prophets to the curb or even pick on them. I think I have separate culture enough from doctrine that I can do this. At least correct me if you think I’m not doing a great job of this, but as far as I’m aware, I don’t even have any quote from prophets upon which to pick — even if I wanted to.

    re 39,

    Jake,

    While I mostly agree with this comment, I would say:

    The church is not comfortable with allowing people room for a different interpretations outside of the consensus within the church.

    Ambiguity in policy/belief/etc., shows that they are comfortable with different interpretations. You mention “consensus within the church”? What consensus? Consensus sounds to me to be something where all of the holes are filled in with culture and folklore…and yes, it is true that people will tend not to be comfortable when culture and folklore are challenged, but the entire point is that that culture and folklore doesn’t speak for “the church.”

    re 40

    The entire point is the journey. You ask: “what hope do average members have of getting it right.” But I would remind you that the entire premise of Christianity is that “average people” have 0 hope of getting it right — one sin and you’re out. One imperfection and you’re out. The good news — the hope — is that you don’t have to “get it right”…you just need to rely upon the grace that was given you.

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  45. Sean on September 5, 2012 at 1:03 PM

    I think one of the most important points of the statements is being missed.

    Brigham Young inserted coffee and tea in the place of hot drinks to create a break for early British an Scandanavian saints from their homelands and native separatist tendencies and to preserve much needed cash in a beleaguered frontier economy.

    There is no rational justification for its continued ban and this is a step (albeit ten or fifteen years away) to remove both coffee and tea from the WoW.

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  46. Geoff B on September 5, 2012 at 1:35 PM

    Dare I say this whole post is a tempest in a…No, too much caffeine in that statement.

    I agree with the comments by Bonnie and Adam G. I doubt we will see coffee and tea removed from the WoW anytime in our lifetimes, but I could be wrong. As a convert to the Church, it was much harder for me to give up coffee than it was to give up alcohol. Coffee is a demon drug.

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  47. Andrew S on September 5, 2012 at 1:53 PM

    re 45,

    sean,

    Good point on history…but also folkloric. (p.s., before we get into that discussion…folklore can be based on factual events and still be folklore.)

    re 46,

    Geoff B,

    I’m not really suggesting that we will see coffee and tea removed from the WoW anytime in our lifetimes either. I also doubt that we will get any clarification on whether temperature matters to make a hot drink. But that’s neither here nor there…

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  48. Will on September 5, 2012 at 2:51 PM

    @5 Bonnie:

    Clearly, officially, number one writer….”so I will try to soften this to an eyeroll”. LOL

    Sorry Hawk and Mike S.

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  49. FireTag on September 5, 2012 at 3:10 PM

    As a long time ice tea drinker (in the RLDS, we actually SERVED coffee and tea at church functions), I’m still in trouble over the hot and cold issue of our common WoW D&C section. I’m on more stable ground by clinging to “wisdom, not commandment”.

    However, I’m really most interested in the part of the OP about ambiguity as a strategy for change. I think Andrew is showing some real insight here, but I’m the kind of guy who does notice the change and tends to force it out in the open so that the changes ARE open to discussion. Particularly since some of the changes the RLDS/CofChrist HAS made strike at the notion that there is only one true church, and so the comfort level of the church is not necessarily the most important thing.

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  50. Howard on September 5, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    Drinking steaming hot tea 70C has been linked with an increased risk of esophageal cancer. The negative effects appear to start right around 65 degrees C or 149 degrees F. Also science says teas that correctly steeped at lower temperatures like green Tea are healthier than those steeped at higher temperatures like Black Tea.

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  51. Andrew S on September 5, 2012 at 3:51 PM

    re 49,

    FireTag,

    I’m also the kind of guy who (if I notice the change) will force it in the open)…but I’m not as much of a hawkboyyyy to be the one who originally notices changes.

    But from what (little) I know of CofChrist, it seems that many of the changes that CofChrist has made were done in such a way that they did alienate entire contingents of the religion (thinking of ordination to women).

    I guess with these big changes, it really has to be public and big…however, I keep on hearing faithful people within the LDS church talk about how revelation is only possible when the membership is ready…this has applied in various situations — the revelation on priesthood for black folks couldn’t happen until enough members in the church could accept it (which didn’t necessarily involve a softening of hearts for the less accepting members, but rather just waiting for those members who were set in old ways to “die off” as it were.)

    That being said, for those set in their ways, the church’s response to folkloric and cultural beliefs regarding the priesthood ban has been forceful. I mean, yeah, there is some ambiguity (the Newsroom saying it doesn’t know when, how, or why the ban came into being…and there are definitely some folks who still think Mormon Doctrine is Mormon doctrine), but the church repudiates Randy Bott’s comments…similarly, Bruce R. McConkie had to eat quite a bit of humble pie in 1978.

    I digress. I think that a lot of folks want the church to make these big and sweeping doctrinal changes. But I think the church is wise enough to realize that to keep as big a tent as possible, ambiguity is really the best policy on most of these issues.

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  52. prometheus on September 5, 2012 at 6:04 PM

    mmm. I find this comment, Andrew, to be very interesting.

    (35) Make the religion your own. Be smart about it.

    I wonder if another advantage of ambiguity is that it can create a desire or a need to search things out for oneself.

    Joseph and Nephi often spoke of being stopped from saying all that they knew. Why was that? Why not be clear and say it the way it is? Even Jesus used parables and a sort of open concealment of what he was teaching. Why?

    I think that like anything, the value of a thing is impacted by the effort put into it. If all were revealed and laid out tidily, what exactly would be left for us to do? Where would our learning and *growth* come from?

    More importantly than that (and why I am just not interested in the WOW aspect at all), ambiguity fills all of our relationships. As our relationships deepen and grow, the ambiguity diminishes – we come to a more true, more intimate knowledge of a person and can be more certain of our standing in the relationship.

    Our relationship with the Divine is no different. We begin from a place of doubt, ambiguity and uncertainty. As we develop and grow that relationship we become more faithful, more certain about who Jesus is and what our relationship looks like, our standing in the eyes of God, as it were.

    I am sure not being clear with this, but to try to express the connection I feel with the bit I quoted, as we search out resolutions to ambiguity, we become active participants in the Kingdom, investing ourselves and attaching value to it. It is in the search that the meaning is found, not in the receipt.

    I am tired and the words aren’t cooperating with me. This idea of ambiguity really demands some thinking about, though – you have given me something to ponder this week, Andrew. Thanks!

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  53. Wayfarer on September 5, 2012 at 6:28 PM

    The original version, stating “The Church’s health guidelines, known in our scriptures as “the Word of Wisdom” (Doctrine and Covenants 89), prohibits alcoholic drinks… is interesting, but wrong. The WoW did not prohibit anything – it was meant as a recommendation not a commandment, and it included mild drinks made of barley and home-made wine for sacraments.

    The second version is accurate, but in so doing, it separates the “Revelation”/”Word of Wisdom”, which doesn’t mention caffiene, from the “Church Health Guidelines” which prohibit certain things.

    This kind of creates a hierarchy:
    1. The Doctrine of Christ, in Doc & Cov 10, 2 Ne 31-32, and 3 Ne 11, explicitly lays out that the only doctrine of Christ are the first principles of the gospel, and to come to christ and endure to the end. Anything more or less than this is forbidden to be taught as “the Doctrine of Christ”.

    2. The “Covenants”. Obedience to the Lord (not to men), Sacrifice to the Lord (not to men), The Gospel(All truth), Chastity (no sexual intercourse outside of marriage), Consecration (making my daily walk holy and seeking for Zion, to be one heart and one mind)… Very close to the Doctrine of Christ.

    2. Church Doctrine. This is the huge corpus of things “taught” by the Church. So much of this is beyond the Doctrine of Christ that it spins the head. And, it changes from time to time. Much of what we interpret as “Commandments” are “Church Doctrine”. I’m not saying that this isn’t useful, or even imperative as a standard, but it isn’t the same level as the Doctrine of Christ, or even, “the Covenants”. The Word of Wisdom in its original form fits here somewhere, along with 182 years of doctrinal speculation that is just about impossible to get a fix on.

    4. Church Policy. This is the current set of things in manuals including the Church Handbook of Instructions vols 1 and 2. This changes frequently, and should NEVER be construed as doctrine.

    5. Guidelines. Suggestions. I’ve learned today that the restrictions people generally associate with the Word of Wisdom are actually part of something called “Church Health Guidelines.” I’m curious where there is a document called “Church Health Guidelines”, and whether it includes sensible eating and exercise.

    Personally, I have my hands full with the basics like faith, repentence, and coming to christ. I’m not sure where ‘guidelines’ fits into the picture.

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  54. MH on September 5, 2012 at 9:01 PM

    For those that want to blame interpretations of the WoW on Brigham Young, think again. You might want to check my post on pre-1843 interpretations of the WoW. See http://www.wheatandtares.org/2012/05/21/the-word-of-wisdom-pre-1843/

    Sorry for not participating more, but please note the first line of my post. I’ve heard variations of Mike’s comment 14 so many times….

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  55. Mike S on September 5, 2012 at 9:23 PM

    #48 Will: Sorry Hawk and Mike S.

    It’s all good. I really like Bonnie’s writing as well, so we’re in agreement.

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  56. Stephen M (Ethesis) on September 5, 2012 at 9:46 PM

    MH — amen.

    All, I think we do ourselves a disservice by not realizing each circle or set of commandments has a purpose — maybe that should be my next post.

    Finally, small beer, with as much alcohol as home made root beer is far different from modern beers with more alcohol than ancient wines (and I challenge anyone to claim they drink their beer cut five to one with water).

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  57. hawkgrrrl on September 5, 2012 at 9:49 PM

    “Choose you this day. Wheat or tare.” That’s a conflation of two very different concepts. The parable of the wheat & tares is about the fact that you can’t separate the two easily while we’re here living our daily lives. And I would add that even if the parable implies some people are wheat (contributors to society) and some are tares (feckless weeds), it’s really more accurate to say our human natures have both – we are not only all collectively wheat and tares, but also individually we are comprised of both wheat and tares.

    “I’m not as much of a hawkboyyyy to be the one who originally notices changes.” Well, you scooped this one! And I’m not sure I’m on the cutting edge either . . .

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  58. Bonnie on September 5, 2012 at 9:57 PM

    Well, Hawk, I disagree. It’s in the post for Thurs. :)

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  59. MD on September 5, 2012 at 9:59 PM

    I’ve always been confused why caffeine has been such a point of contention, especially when regards to a temple recommend. My friend had a bishop who would not give temple recommends to anyone who drank cokes or watched R movies but morbidly obese brothers and sisters could get temple recommends no problem. (My own mom is morbidly obese and yes she has a food addiction; I’m not trying to be critical or cruel but it’s interesting why some addictions are taboo and others are acceptable.)

    And if caffeine is such a huge no-no, then why does the bishop allow the youth to pass out chocolates to all the women on Mother’s Day? :/ Don’t get me wrong, I want the chocolate (unless it has nuts, then I’m tossing that candy bar from satan in the garbage).

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  60. Andrew S on September 5, 2012 at 11:09 PM

    re 52,

    prometheus,

    Great comment. Especially

    as we search out resolutions to ambiguity, we become active participants in the Kingdom, investing ourselves and attaching value to it. It is in the search that the meaning is found, not in the receipt.

    re 53

    Wayfarer,

    This bifurcation/separation/hierarchy is definitely something I’ve been thinking about based on several of the comments here…it’s another aspect where people will fill in the blanks and ambiguities as they see fit…for example, I saw things the following way: “The Word of Wisdom = D&C 89 = Church health guidelines”

    For me, I guess this allows me to weed out anything not written in D&C 89 as being cultural baggage…but clearly, many other people believe differently…either that the WoW can be more than what is written in D&C 89, or that church health guidelines can be different from the WoW.

    I like your listing of hierarchy…but don’t know if I can personally agree with it.

    re 54,

    MH,

    Thanks for infusing history into the discussion.

    re 56,

    Stephen,

    Intriguing…I think some people might dispute some things there, but I dunno, I’m not an alcohol aficionado so I wouldn’t be the one.

    re 57

    Hawkgrrrl,

    The parable of the wheat & tares is about the fact that you can’t separate the two easily while we’re here living our daily lives.

    Spot on.

    “I’m not as much of a hawkboyyyy to be the one who originally notices changes.” Well, you scooped this one! And I’m not sure I’m on the cutting edge either . . .

    Well, no one puts me in their top 3 list of W&T authors, so….

    re 58,

    Bonnie,

    Looks like Thursday will be must-read…as usual, of course.

    re 59

    MD,

    I can only summarize it as the fact that culture sometimes solidifies in weird places…and culture isn’t nearly as logical as we post-hoc rationalize it to be.

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  61. SilverRain on September 6, 2012 at 5:46 AM

    I think this misses a huge doctrinal point. We are ultimately answerable to God, not the Church. The Church is a facilitator.

    If we expect to be commanded in everything, we are not truly disciples. The Church teaches principles and guidelines, and it is up to us to put on our grown up pants and work out our own salvation.

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  62. Andrew S on September 6, 2012 at 7:36 AM

    re 61,

    SilverRain,

    I don’t see how that really disagrees with what I’ve been saying here, but rather accentuates and highlights the reason for what I’ve been saying here. The church is ambiguous precisely because we are ultimately answerable to God, not the Church and it is up to us to put on our grown up pants and work out our own salvation.

    I would state our purposes should be therefore aligned…from my pov, it’s just interesting (albeit somewhat tiring and sad at some point) seeing how culture and folklore solidifies in a doctrinal state for many people — but from your perspective, I would think that it should be extremely disappointing that these cultural factors do create an expectation to be commanded in everything…and thus, render lots of folks not truly disciples.

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  63. Jon on September 6, 2012 at 8:16 AM

    I could have sworn this post was just posted just yesterday. 62 comments already! I’ll have to work my way through the comments. But I’ll post my first thoughts.

    Thank goodness there is more ambiguity. It would be nice if there were even more though. Like the WoW doesn’t prohibit alcohol neither drugs, this was added by an over zealous president of the church and his counselors.

    Even tithing has more ambiguity then the OP says. The scriptures tell us that we tight on our interest, i.e., members of the Church should pay one-tenth of all their interest annually which might even mean that we are overpaying our tithing even when we are paying on net.

    As for cross-generational changes. According to statements made by presidents of the church the church has fallen into apostasy multiple times with statements like, if x happens then the church is in apostasy. Old members of the church wouldn’t recognize today’s church as their church, it is an entirely different beast. Of course, if Joseph Smith really did fight polygamy then even Brigham’s church would be an apostate church.

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  64. SilverRain on September 6, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    I think the reason I highlight it, and where our differences lie, isn’t so much in what is said as the implications. As a product of many cultures, I don’t put nearly as much store in cultural expectation. People are people and the church is the church. I find it unhelpful to obsess about others’ interpretation of the gospel or their expectations. I find it much more productive to live according to mine, and speak up for what I feel is right. Expectations, schmexpectations.

    I see so many people waste their lives in anger, confusion, or conflict over the expectations of others. I find that much more tiring and sad than the expectations themselves.

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  65. SilverRain on September 6, 2012 at 8:27 AM

    This kind of reminds me of the kerfluffle when they removed the specific mention of rated R movies from the Strength of Youth pamphlet. So many people rejoiced over a “loosening of the standards,” not realizing that it was no such thing, but rather a weaning off the training wheels.

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  66. Jon on September 6, 2012 at 8:44 AM

    @Bonnie, #5,

    we can use the principles of the WOW to make up our own minds.

    If only that were the case. As Mike S has pointed out and as my previous comment showed, we are not given a choice, unless you don’t mind not seeing your kids, brothers, sisters, etc. get married in the temple, then I suppose you have a choice, otherwise you don’t.

    The church today is as the pharisees were. It is nice to see any move away from Pharisaical practices. And this caffeine move is away from that, even though there is a lot further to go.

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  67. Jon on September 6, 2012 at 9:03 AM

    @Bonnie, #19,

    And there is a real reason for keeping someone out of the temple, but he wasn’t. Just like a some friends of my wife and I. The husband refuses to provide for the family, so the wife must do it. But the husband also refuses to care for the children if the wife is working. Another case where I think it would be right to censure someone from the temple.

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  68. Andrew S on September 6, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    re 63,

    Jon,

    Great comment…yes…there has been a tremendous response to this article :3. I especially hadn’t thought about the cross-generational changes being able to match with the thoughts of some that the church could go into (or is in) apostasy.

    re 64,

    SilverRain,

    I particularly like the following lines:

    I find it unhelpful to obsess about others’ interpretation of the gospel or their expectations. I find it much more productive to live according to mine, and speak up for what I feel is right.

    I agree that the most productive thing to do would be to live according to your interpretation, but this alone can be a solitary path…so I appreciated that you also said that you “speak up for what [you] feel is right”. But when you do the latter, doesn’t it become somewhat clear that much of the disconnect is in others’ interpretations and expectations? So, I see there is a challenge…you can live your life and not care what others think, or you can speak up for what you feel is right, which necessarily includes at least some caring about what others think. Or would you disagree with that?

    re 65

    So I guess the question is, if people do not SEE it as “a weaning off the training wheels” but instead they see it as “loosening the standards,” do you have a problem with this? Do you speak out against that problem? How? Do you wonder how we get to the state where many people do see it as a “loosening of the standards” rather than “weaning off the training wheels”?

    re 66,

    Jon,

    The temple recommend interview asks the MOST ambiguous questions. “Do you keep the Word of Wisdom.” It does not ask the specific one: “Do you drink [insert x specific beverage]?” I will grant that you have to be a lot smarter than most people tend to be when they are practicing their religion, but that’s a different sort of issue…

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  69. Jon on September 6, 2012 at 9:30 AM

    @Wayfarer, #53,

    This is the current set of things in manuals including the Church Handbook of Instructions vols 1 and 2. This changes frequently, and should NEVER be construed as doctrine.

    If only this were true. It was only a week ago that I heard someone mention that it was akin to modern scripture. For some people the handbook is the continuous revelation and modern scripture. Oh the horror!

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  70. SilverRain on September 6, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    Andrew, I don’t exactly disagree. What you describe can be the exact experience of someone who both lives what they think is right, and speaks up. But a deep understanding of the Atonement gives one the power to both love and let go, to teach and allow others their agency, to be both humble and a witness.

    Whether or not I speak up when I see someone rejoicing in the loosening of the standards depends entirely on whether or not I feel that I should. Through my interactions on the Bloggernacle, I am learning to rely heavily on prompting from the Spirit to speak or be silent. If I sense that a person is sincerely trying to work out their own salvation, I am much more likely to speak up. If I feel a person is looking for justification, I generally don’t unless prompted.

    I have a lot of balls in the air, I try to no longer waste time tilting at windmills.

    But I don’t wonder how we transition as individuals from perceiving a loosening of standards, vs. an empowerment to our agency. It’s pretty simple. It comes from cultivating a personal relationship with God. Insomuch as I can invite the Spirit, I hopefully facilitate opportunities for myself and others to hear by the Spirit and learn the Lord’s will concerning them.

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  71. Andrew S on September 6, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    re 70,

    SilverRain,

    Fair answer…so I’ll focus on the last paragraph there:

    But I don’t wonder how we transition as individuals from perceiving a loosening of standards, vs. an empowerment to our agency. It’s pretty simple. It comes from cultivating a personal relationship with God. Insomuch as I can invite the Spirit, I hopefully facilitate opportunities for myself and others to hear by the Spirit and learn the Lord’s will concerning them.

    I guess the question is…I don’t really see the church as a place where individuals transition from perceiving a loosening of standards to seeing an empowerment of agency. I see some members who are in the former, some members who are in the latter, and never the twain shall meet (generally.)

    So, I still wonder. I can buy your idea that it comes from cultivating a personal relationship with God…BUT that doesn’t really answer the questions — it doesn’t seem that a whole lot of people are doing that. It doesn’t seem that being in a religion makes one more likely to do it, or that being outside of religion makes one less likely to do that. All of these things seem to be confounding variables.

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  72. SilverRain on September 6, 2012 at 12:07 PM

    There are several questions that I sense all wrapped in that one statement, so I’ll try to break it down a bit and share my perspective on each.

    1) Others aren’t cultivating a relationship with God.

    First, who cares? It doesn’t matter how OTHERS are using their opportunities, really. Their ability to understand the gospel doesn’t really make a difference to yours unless you let it.

    2) Religion doesn’t help people come to God. Well, that depends on what you think a personal relationship with God looks like. I believe in communal heaven, that our connections with other children of my Father are vital to my personal salvation, and understanding of His nature. Church isn’t a place that magically transforms mortals into immortals. It is a place that offers the ordinances which outline how we can learn of Him, and offers opportunities to put our money where our mouth is as we serve His children. You can’t get that through “spirituality” without religion. Religion is the outward ordinances, spirituality is the inward commitment. Neither truly exists without the other. Spirituality needs framework, and religion needs genuine dedication to God.

    3) People don’t change.

    Well, maybe not. But I think you sell us mortals short. A lot of change is inside, where it can’t be seen for awhile. It reminds me of my daughter’s frustration when she planted a seed and nothing happened for two weeks. Then, suddenly, it was there. Just because you can’t see the “twain meeting,” doesn’t mean they don’t influence each other for good.

    I know people can change because I have. But that is why church is there. It’s more of an irritant than a balm. It’s a place where a mess of humanity can meet, rub up against each other, irritate each other, feel the Spirit because of each other, and maybe learn something in the process if we let ourselves.

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  73. Howard on September 6, 2012 at 12:26 PM

    First, who cares? I would say all members of the Godhead care as do many, many other enlightened beings. Selfish beings on the other hand care little beyond themselves or loved ones which leads God to offer blessings as rewards (even bribes) for specific behavior, ordinances and covenants. I think this is what you are calling religion but I’ve encountered more enlightened “religions” that focus strongly on spirituality and are much more effective at helping people come to God.

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  74. Rigel Hawthorne on September 6, 2012 at 1:53 PM

    “If only this were true. It was only a week ago that I heard someone mention that it was akin to modern scripture. For some people the handbook is the continuous revelation and modern scripture.”

    Our Bishop just came back from a training meeting with Elder Rasband who referred to the handboods as “epistles from our living apostles”.

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  75. Rigel Hawthorne on September 6, 2012 at 2:01 PM

    In talking with Larry King, President Hinckley said the following:
    LK: By saying no?
    GH: By saying, by proscribing those things.
    LK: No to caffeine?
    GH: No to caffeine, coffee and tea.

    I don’t see this interview as being definitive at all. He was confirming that a reporter who wanted a short answer was on the right track. It’s like saying no, we do not practice polygamy, in short answer to a direct question. But there’s the whole can of worms about sealings being performed to monogamous men who’s spouse has passed away. Most times those who are asking are not wanting that much detail.

    He was providing a quick QA, not a deep discussion on the letter of the law with regard to the Word of Wisdom.

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  76. Bob on September 6, 2012 at 2:09 PM

    #75:Rigel Hawthorne,
    Why not say: “Caffeine OK, no coffee or tea”?

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  77. Andrew S on September 6, 2012 at 2:43 PM

    re 72,

    SilverRain,

    1) Others aren’t cultivating a relationship with God.

    First, who cares? It doesn’t matter how OTHERS are using their opportunities, really. Their ability to understand the gospel doesn’t really make a difference to yours unless you let it.

    This is probably a great answer for you, since for you, those others are just others.

    But for me, they are not “others.” They include me.

    2) Religion doesn’t help people come to God. Well, that depends on what you think a personal relationship with God looks like.

    Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing where “you know it when you see it.” Which kinda gets to your point about a lot of change being inside, where it (in)conveniently cannot be seen for a while…but getting to the larger idea in your third point:

    3) People don’t change.

    Well, maybe not. But I think you sell us mortals short. A lot of change is inside, where it can’t be seen for awhile. It reminds me of my daughter’s frustration when she planted a seed and nothing happened for two weeks. Then, suddenly, it was there. Just because you can’t see the “twain meeting,” doesn’t mean they don’t influence each other for good.

    I know people can change because I have. But that is why church is there. It’s more of an irritant than a balm. It’s a place where a mess of humanity can meet, rub up against each other, irritate each other, feel the Spirit because of each other, and maybe learn something in the process if we let ourselves.

    My third point isn’t so much, “people don’t change,” so much as “whatever change that does happen doesn’t seem to be dependent or affected or increased or decreased by any of the usual variables that the church or the scriptures or whatever would have us think would be impactful.

    I mean, a Calvinist model makes a lot of sense to me. But a Calvinist model is quite different than the model Mormonism presents…

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  78. Heber13 on September 6, 2012 at 3:05 PM

    HG, nice article.

    The point about ambiguity is interesting to me.

    “Despite what was reported, the Church revelation spelling out health practices (Doctrine and Covenants 89) does not mention the use of caffeine.”

    This is where the Church is in a tough spot. When does the Lord reveal specific things in the scriptures that allow us to set Church Policies to run a global, correlated organization? Doesn’t it all come down to interpretation by leaders (which, in fact, do change over time)?

    Word of Wisdom: All the points above about caffeine, alcohol, etc.
    Tithing: Gross income? That’s not in the scriptures.
    Law of Chastity: Fornication, pornography, homosexuality…that’s not in the scriptures.
    Do not kill: means murder, doesn’t apply to times of war, self-defense, etc.

    The list could go on. Nothing is spelled out exactly. It is why we need modern prophets and apostles for the members to follow. I’m not sure they can be explained to non-members who don’t accept the authority of leaders. Because it doesn’t always make sense, it is just an authoritative policy and decision and we sustain it. Ambiguity is needed because it can’t be expressed well in language.

    I think we need to just be more comfortable accepting policies for what they are in the Church. Not using weak apologetic arguments to explain this or that from proof-texting or twisting things to fit current policy.

    Most of the time, things are ambiguous because the decisions are pushed to authorized local leaders who should rely on the Spirit to put in practice what is vaguely spelled out at a global level. The Church needs ambiguity to navigate through changing times and circumstances.

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  79. SilverRain on September 6, 2012 at 3:13 PM

    Andrew, you are confusing me when you say, “this is probably a great answer for you, since for you, those others are just others. But for me, they are not ‘others.’ They include me.”

    Also: “Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing where ‘you know it when you see it.’”

    Can you clarify what you mean?

    “My third point isn’t so much, “people don’t change,” so much as “whatever change that does happen doesn’t seem to be dependent or affected or increased or decreased by any of the usual variables that the church or the scriptures or whatever would have us think would be impactful.”

    Can you name a specific example? What sort of “usual variables” do you find make no difference?

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  80. Jon on September 6, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    @Heber13,

    Except the scriptures do say war is murder, unless you are defending yourself…

    I think the ambiguity is good in the sense of, teach correct principles and let them rule themselves. We need no rulers, leaders are fine, just no rulers please.

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  81. Andrew S on September 6, 2012 at 3:33 PM

    re 78,

    Heber13,

    What does HG mean? ;)

    re 79,

    SilverRain,

    Andrew, you are confusing me when you say, “this is probably a great answer for you, since for you, those others are just others. But for me, they are not ‘others.’ They include me.”

    Let me try to retrace:

    In 70, you said:

    But I don’t wonder how we transition as individuals from perceiving a loosening of standards, vs. an empowerment to our agency. It’s pretty simple. It comes from cultivating a personal relationship with God.

    In 71, I replied that I don’t see the church as being a place where individuals move in any particular direction…I don’t see a lot of folks cultivating a personal relationship with God as a result of the church (and also don’t see a lot of folks not cultivating a relationship with God from not being in the church.)

    Maybe what wasn’t clear is that this statement is not just a statement about “other people,” but a statement about my own life and experience as well. So your response in 72:

    It doesn’t matter how OTHERS are using their opportunities, really. Their ability to understand the gospel doesn’t really make a difference to yours unless you let it.

    seems to be a nonstarter to me.

    “My third point isn’t so much, “people don’t change,” so much as “whatever change that does happen doesn’t seem to be dependent or affected or increased or decreased by any of the usual variables that the church or the scriptures or whatever would have us think would be impactful.”

    Can you name a specific example? What sort of “usual variables” do you find make no difference?

    I think the usual variables in the LDS church are what we could otherwise call “standard seminary answers” — reading your scriptures, praying, fasting, obeying commandments, attending church meetings, paying tithing, going to the temple, missionary work, home teaching, visiting teaching. More generally, we could describe it all as “the Alma 32 experiment on the word.”

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  82. Heber13 on September 6, 2012 at 3:34 PM

    Jon, can you provide the reference? I’d like to read the scripture.

    I agree with your point…no rulers, and would add we should accept ambiguity to help us become Christ-like with less emphasis on a checklist and commandment mentality, so we are not slothful servants.

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  83. Heber13 on September 6, 2012 at 3:41 PM

    #81, “HG” is my ambiguous reference to the author of the article, according to my PR team, this does not exclude reference to Andrew S.
    ;)

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  84. SilverRain on September 6, 2012 at 4:15 PM

    So, Andrew, you truly see no value in understanding God and coming closer to Him in prayer, scripture study, obedience to His commandments, etc?

    I can’t speak with clarity for anyone else’s life, but they have CERTAINLY made a difference in mine.

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  85. Adam G. on September 6, 2012 at 4:18 PM

    The church is ambiguous precisely because we are ultimately answerable to God, not the Church and it is up to us to put on our grown up pants and work out our own salvation.

    If this were true, there would be no need for the church to be ambiguous, because what the church said wouldn’t matter.

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  86. Howard on September 6, 2012 at 4:25 PM

    I think that’s pretty much where things stand Adam G. The church provides saving ordinances and training wheels until you learn how to ride on your own. Then you cultivate your own relationship with God instead of the church brokering one for you.

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  87. Andrew S on September 6, 2012 at 4:26 PM

    re 83,
    Heber13,

    Ah, I see ;)

    re 85,

    SilverRain,

    I think understanding God and coming closer to Him could be pretty cool. And I do think that for some, it’s possible to do these things via prayer, scripture study, obedience to commandments, etc., But in my experience, prayer results unilaterally in silence — I guess the “stupor of thought” to use LDS terminologies. The scriptures are parts boring, baffling, or enraging. The commandments seem the same, but then add some parts irrelevant, or depressing/debilitating. And none of these things seem to make a difference either way when it comes to God.

    So, again, personally, I think it makes a whole lot more sense to think that God, if he’s even out there, picks and chooses to whom he will reach and when, not the other way around. But that’s not what the church would insist…

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  88. Howard on September 6, 2012 at 4:27 PM

    Ambiguity is in play to broaden the tent while the training wheels are still attached.

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  89. Andrew S on September 6, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    re 86,

    Adam G,

    The church can still be or provide a framework…or be or serve as a facilitator, in which case what it says would still matter.

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  90. Tim on September 6, 2012 at 5:24 PM

    Good post Andrew

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  91. Andrew S on September 6, 2012 at 6:34 PM

    re 91,

    Thanks, Tim!

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  92. Hedgehog on September 7, 2012 at 2:42 AM

    On the OP, the ambiguity idea is interesting. How did we get into such a mess that we have so many ‘rules’ that we need to be ambiguous?

    #45 Sean,
    So you’re saying that that tea and coffee were banned to break the British and European saints away from their culture, and to prevent money from leaving the community, that would otherwise have been spent on importing the stuff? Whether true or not, it certainly keeps us culturally apart now… I’m not sure that’s altogether good thing (health benefits aside) – there are so many gatherings we don’t participate in, and therefore so many good people we don’t meet… The other result is that so many members here just don’t drink enough at all through the day. And I’m not at all sure that the sugary, acidic sodas used instead by others are in the least bit healthier…

    #56 Stephen, #60 Andrew,
    Stephen I was thinking the same as you about small beer. There’s an article about the history of alcohol here (http://www.beekmanwine.com/prevtopx.htm). I think the poor sanitation and unclean drinking water are points to be considered historically
    There was an interesting TV program a good few years ago now looking at the part played by tea in the development of large cities, the preparation of the drink requiring water to be boiled and greatly reducing the incidences of water-borne diseases, without the intoxicating effects of alcohol. Both ‘hot drinks’ and alcohol would seem to have played their part in history, and not always for the bad.

    #11 Andrew,
    On the subject of sugar, I am pretty sure I once heard a something in one class (as a youth) how in a time of poverty the saints were inspired to invest in sugar production, and how it greatly contributed to their wealth (I wish I could find a reference now). I remember being nonplussed at the time and wondering how was that different to the tea industry in India for example. I guess that could be one reason why we never hear bad about sugar…

    #18 Bonnie: “Going on to talk about the evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days … um, pretty much “I love you and here’s a warning.””
    I think this is a REALLY important point of the WoW that we ought to stress more – increased alcohol levels in wines and beers today, the whole alco-pop debate that has been raging here for a good few years now, increased nicotine levels in cigarettes and so on. Business just wants to sell more, make money regardless of the consequences to individuals. Doesn’t just apply to those things though. I remember hearing a radio program discussing taste, and junk snack food, talking about a particular brand deliberately designing their snacks to give an incomplete taste experience so that people will feel compelled to keep eating to complete the experience. Horrifying.

    #20 Hawkgrrrl; “But it’s a mistake, IMO, to cater to those that build hedges about the law.”
    Agree wholeheartedly. They do so much damage to others. I’m hopeful that we see signs that we are beginning to move away from that, albeit at a very slow pace…

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  93. Jon on September 7, 2012 at 7:22 AM

    @Hedgehog,

    Conspiring men? But the FDA will protect us! :\

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  94. [...] case you missed the earlier discussion, Andrew S provided a good chronology and hit on some key points: In fact, interestingly enough, we see what seems to be an institutional [...]

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  95. [...] [...]

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  96. [...] and rereading these points, I wonder if it the field isn’t actually beset with some of the Mormon ambiguity and plausible deniability of which I am becoming fond. What is the pattern? What is the ideal that the church teaches? Well, I can agree with protecting [...]

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  97. [...] The one thing I’ll say to provide context is…if you’ve been reading me recently, you should be aware that I’ve been studying alchemy. I’m not studying how to transmute lead into gold, per se, but how to take the discourse of Mormonism from being a solid, static thing into a nebulous, constructed, plausibly deniable thing. [...]

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  98. Lawrence Vingoe on October 27, 2012 at 1:21 PM

    All this speculation and discussion ignores the simple fact that Church doctrine is scripture, as interpreted by the President of the Church. The correction in the newsroom statement follows this fact. When Sec. 89 was received no interpretation of hot drinks was given. Many LDS pioneers travelled over the plains with a small barrel of coffee in the wagon. But, when President Wilford Woodruff announced that hot drinks were tea and coffee, the doctrine was established. Faithful members follow the Prophet. The Newsroom article simply corrected their statement to be consistent with doctrine.

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  99. Andrew S. on October 28, 2012 at 1:20 AM

    re 99

    Lawrence Vingoe,

    Define “church doctrine,” “scripture,” and “interpreted by the President of the Church.”

    Also, do you think that Prophets always speak prophetically?

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  100. Mormonism is a Skirt, Not a Pair of Pants! on December 18, 2012 at 5:13 PM

    [...] Moment, it’s that Mormonism is anything but unequivocal — on issues as trivial as caffeine consumption and as weighty as who can hold the priesthood. Rather than a crisply-pressed pair of pants, [...]

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  101. [...] September, I wrote that I saw plausible deniability and ambiguity as being a change strategy for the church. How does this hold up [...]

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  102. Douglas on March 1, 2013 at 7:59 PM

    We can thank the talents of Irene Klasky and Gabor Csupo:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qK-gUhwDeKQ&playnext=1&list=PLcFR1vH6onb5OUVdPPZfmP64FTsP1T50X&feature=results_video

    (2:08 to 2:16)

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  103. [...] of possible reasons for their sometime vagueness. (Some of the better ones I’ve borrowed from Andrew S’s post on the Church’s statements on caffeine last year at W&T.) In the comments, please let me [...]

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  104. [...] One thing that I will say was kinda surreal (although it seems to be a role I’m playing more and more these days) was being the most sympathetic to the church. Now, for sure, if you listen to the podcast, you’ll be fully aware that we all are a bunch of apostates, myself included. But one thing that the podcast made me realize is that I really need to take some time to formally research my hypothesis of the church’s (inspired?) use of ambiguity and plausible deniability as a change management strategy. [...]

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